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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Obama lays his cards out

While Scott Brown is playing with his baseball cards, Barack Obama appears to be stepping up to the plate in a game that really matters.

Obama laid his own cards on the table yesterday at a White House news conference where he called out Republicans to stop posturing and get serious about negotiating an increase in the nation's debt ceiling.

A more combative Obama neatly punctured the GOP balloon about standing up for average Americans in their resistance to taxes in addition to program cuts:
“I’ve said to some of the Republican leaders: you go talk to your constituents, the Republican constituents, and ask them, are they willing to compromise their kids’ safety so that some corporate-jet owner continues to get a tax break?” Mr. Obama said. “I’m pretty sure what the answer would be.”
The sad fact is the Democrats are asking for short money in taxes. The Times notes "owners of corporate jets would have to write off the aircrafts’ cost in fewer years, which would generate an estimated $3 billion for the Treasury over a decade. Hedge funds and private equity investors would pay higher capital gains tax on their earnings. Phasing out tax deductions and credits for oil and gas companies could raise nearly $40 billion."

Yet the Boehner Bunch insists this is too much of a sacrifice, meaning, in Obama's calculations, "cuts in programs that award college scholarships, finance the National Weather Service and medical research and improve food safety."

Democrats have allowed the Republicans to carry the debate for far too long with the nice-sounding rhetoric that claims they stand up for Main Street and not Wall Street. Details like this puncture that balloon.

They key of course is for Obama and Democrats to stand firm in the face of Boehner's return volleys.

Or maybe they can steal a GOP gimmick and sell sell baseball cards too.

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Do you know where your senator is?

While the deficit rhetoric heats up on Capitol Hill, anyone notice where our junior senator is? Handling campaign finances apparently.

Yep, while Barack Obama and the Republican leadership play a game of high stakes chicken with the debt ceiling and our nation's ability to maintain its credit and credibility, Scott Brown is playing a different finance game -- getting reelected.

Even though Democrats have yet to surface a viable candidate, Brown has come up with a new trick -- baseball cards that will sell for $10 a piece. I'm guessing the bankers are lining up in droves.

Think that will work for the country and a party that won't raise taxes? We don't know because Brown has been ever more AWOL and silent from Massachusetts media than usual.

Could it be he has found his voice just in time for the campaign?

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When will they ever learn?

Jeepers, Mitt Romney has a 3-1 lead over his nearest rival in New Hampshire but Michele Bachmann is rising fast! Yes, silly season is back.

If you took a poll of most Americans -- that would be the ones who actually answer their landlines when "unknown" callers pop up -- you would likely discover that an overwhelming majority don't know or care who Herman Cain or Jon Huntsman is, let alone care.

But here we are with yet another early New Hampshire poll, showing Romney, who led Massachusetts for two years (out of four) and has a house at Winnipesaukee, holds a commanding lead over a field of names.

Bachmann's 8-point surge (!) -- all the way to 11 percent -- probably has nothing to do with the fact she formally announced her candidacy in Iowa on Monday after sparring with Chris Wallace on Sunday, all while the poll was in the field. Does it?

Yet the answers of 400 "likely voters" in New Hampshire's Republican primary next winter are having their thoughts rebound around the insular political journalism community as if they mattered.

Forgive them for they know not what they do. As a recovering political reporter myself, I know that polls are like crack cocaine -- highly addictive and bad for you.

And while I'm on bad analogies, polls, gaffes and scandals are the Chinese food of political journalism: satisfying for awhile but quickly leaving you hungry for more. And filling you up so you don't have room for serious topics like how a party can oppose all taxes, demand cuts everywhere except the military and keep a straight face.

Thankfully our political press corps is being sated on polls and gaffes aplenty and won't need to worry about policy stories for awhile.

As for the rest of us, we'll just have to figure out on our own what the Paul Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it really means. Then again, we weren't going to learn it from the political press corps anyway.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Truth or dare (II)

Did Whitey Bulger really sneak back to Boston "armed to the teeth" to take care of business? Or is he just blowing smoke up the FBI's butt again?

I'm leaning to the latter explanation, thinking a criminal mind as sharp as Bulger's isn't about to waive his legal rights without some sort of promise in return. After all, that's how snitches work.

But Bulger's braggadocio is clearly going to turn up the heat on his brothers, particularly former Senate President William Bulger, to disclose what they knew and when they knew it.

Brother Billy has more than is $196,000 state pension at stake. He has a reputation he worked tirelessly to build and protect as the one who did good works. It has been tarnished by his devotion to family, an understandable response, albeit somewhat tougher in this instance.

It was his acknowledgment that he spoke to his fugitive brother once that started Billy Bulger's downhill slide. The feds -- who clearly are no angels either in this case -- will no doubt start working hard to pry from Billy and other brother John whether fugitive Whitey was indeed in town under the feds' noses and whether the family knew it and had contact with him.

I've long been willing to give Billy the benefit of the doubt on this one. But the time of reckoning is coming -- and much more than a $196,000 pension is at stake for a man who has always tried publicly at least, to put his honor first.

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Truth or dare (I)

How can we take about compromise when one side isn't willing to budge?

That's the dilemma Barack Obama and the Democrats face with the Republicans all-in strategy on deficit reduction. Listen to this false choice offered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:
“My message to the president is simple. It’s time for Washington to focus on fixing itself. It’s time Washington take the hit, not the taxpayers.”
There's no dispute that Washington is broken. Republicans, in particular, are beholden to those who helped get us into the mess we are digging out of, unregulated industries with lots of money to spend on the taxpayers' dime to finance "too big to fail" recklessness.

It's an affront to even call them "taxpayers" instead of the every day Americans who pay through their paycheck for the promise of Social Security and Medicare down the road, a promise the reckless class is eating away at.

Yes, changes can and should come to the federal safety net programs. Not with a meat cleaver as proposed by Paul Ryan and his band of Wall Street Warriors, but with simple and effective adjustments -- such as extending the payroll tax upper limits so those who make more pay more.

Throughout his term, Obama has struggled to appear accommodating in the hopes of winning a compromise. Too often, like in agreeing to extend the Bush tax cuts which drained the treasury, that accommodation has won important gains but at considerable price.

No more. The line between all cuts (none in the bloated military, by the way) and a reasonable package of taxes and program adjustments is stark. And one that cannot be crossed.

If Republicans think destroying the economy (again) is their ticket for electoral success, it's time to call their bluff.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

At the front lines

Massachusetts has always been front and center in the health care debate, a spot most people think reflects the importance of health care delivery to the state's economy. But we often forget the biotechnology industry as one of the principal cost drivers too.

That's what makes the push by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council to thwart a key cost control effort with the Affordable Care Act a significant threat in the effort to gut the law.

MBC boss Robert Coughlin cites importance of the life sciences to the Massachusetts economy as a reason to scuttle cost controls. Heck, he's downright patriotic:
"You wouldn’t see congressmen in Florida voting against the orange industry,’’ Coughlin said during an interview in Washington earlier this month. “How could anyone in Massachusetts vote against the biotech industry?’’
The argument goes that placing limits on Medicare costs would stifle innovation and hurt the Massachusetts economy. And the Commonwealth certainly has placed a bet on the sector as a key economic growth component.

But what's good for one Massachusetts sector may not be good for everyone else:
“You’ve got special interest groups feeling threatened by the Independent Payment Advisory Board because it would in fact impact their ability to influence members of Congress, especially with respect to payment issues,’’ said Alan Cohen, a professor of health policy and management at the Boston University School of Management who heads its Health Policy Institute. “This is a huge fight. What it comes down to is power and their pocketbooks. They are fighting to hold on to a system that has worked for them for decades.’’
Ah yeah, special interest groups, the folks who really run Washington with the millions that pass around in campaign contributions. So far, at least, they're not getting a lot of traction on this, at least from one Massachusetts senator.
“If we’re going to protect taxpayers and control costs, it seems a little bonkers to eliminate something the experts say is our best hope of doing that before we even have a chance to evaluate it,’’ said Whitney Smith, a [John] Kerry spokeswoman. That said, Kerry is open to making improvements to the board, Smith said.
That's good because his counterpart Scott Brown is already on record of scuttling the board, although as usual we have little to actually go on from our Silent Senator. Let's hear instead from a once-and-future foe, Mike Capuano, whose with Brown on this one.
“Hypothetically, this could destroy the Massachusetts health care economy,’’ said Capuano. “A small tweak could literally mean hundreds of billions of dollars going from Massachusetts to some other state.’’
Note the weasel word: "hypothetically." At stake here is billions of dollars in a zero-sum game. Future cures could be brewing in life science labs, but they can take decades and cost billions. In the meantime we have the reality that prices are choking our health care system.

Some sort of rationale compromise would seem to be in order that can recognize future hopes against today's costs. A professional board that evaluates those options would seem to be the rational course.

But rational and Washington are not words that go together well.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

They can't handle the truth

The volume of lies emanating from Republicans about Massachusetts health care could fill the Grand Canyon. Now there's a definitive piece of work that should set the standard for all reporting in the campaign ahead.

The Globe's Brian Mooney has extensively documented the pluses -- and minuses -- of the five-year-old law now derisively labeled at RomneyCare. Coupled with Ryan Lizza's look at Massachusetts' experience, it's easy to see how much liberty has been taken with the truth by GOP ideologues who put party above country.

Take Rick Perry. Please. The Texas governor, now a presidential darling two years after talking about secession, was caught in an outright lie for which he was forced to apologize when he declared:
“The number of uninsured people in Massachusetts is about the same as it was when the mandates were passed in 2006.’’
Or the outright ignorant boorishness of Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn who verbally accosted Deval Patrick before he said a word about the Massachusetts experience:
“Looking forward to what you have to say about a failed program in your state, MassachusettsCare.’’
Mooney offers the real picture: more insured than ever before; costs still not in total control; difficulties in achieving the perfect balance on mandates and cost-sharing.

What clearly emerges is a system that has begun to grapple with the problems of providing quality health care, the intricate balance between cost and access. It is the blueprint for national action.

But in today's Republican Party, as Lizza documents, what was sound policy a decade ago is liberal claptrap today. The GOP's basic strategy is to be against anything Barack Obama stands for -- whether health care, debt reduction or a Libyan solution.

Knee-jerk conservatism, rejecting fact even when it stands in direct contrast to fact and reality. That is the overriding doctrine of a party that would prefer to prevent an economic recovery and job creation in the quest to win the White House in 2012.

That's why the work of Mooney and Lizza should be standard background for reporters covering the GOP nomination race.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Tale of Two Southies

It was the best of times and the worst of times for South Boston this week. Vertex Pharmaceuticals broke ground for a new building a stone's throw from where Whitey Bulger was being brought to justice in what the Globe called "the town he terrorized."

It's doubtful Bulger recognized anything. His return took him over a new roadway at Logan Airport through the Ted Williams Tunnel that was opening to commercial traffic only when he fled in 1995. He rode behind the Seaport Hotel, past the mammoth Boston Convention and Exposition Center and may have caught a glimpse of a new restaurant complex where Jimmy's Harborside once sat. From there, up and around Seaport Boulevard to the Moakley Courthouse, named for a beloved son of the Town.

The "South Boston Waterfront" was nothing but a bunch of parking lots and sub shops when Whitey ruled the Town, which most folks know really runs south of the Seaport. That's where brother Billy and the rest of the clan reside -- where the landmarks aren't Silver Line stops and LTK, but Broadway, L Street and Castle Island.

Bulger's return highlights the clash of eras, particularly a new Southie where young urban professionals (OK, yuppies) have been flocking and where restaurants with windows that open to the street are overtaking bars that hide their secrets.

The 81-year-old Bulger was the undisputed king of the Town. Some say it was because of his generosity, protecting residents from the scourge of drugs. Others, particularly cops, say it was through the gun and fear.

It's ironic that Bulger returned to a part of town that he never knew -- and never will. It's a fitting coda to a career that made Southie infamous for crime and intolerance. A chance for the Town to start over too, even if some of its long-time residents have to be dragged kicking and screaming into that good night.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

The morning after

After the shock and disbelief that Whitey Bulger is finally in custody comes the realization one of the FBI's allegedly Most Wanted lived under their noses in a rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica for 15 years.

Freaking Bumblers and Incompetents anyone?

What about all those reports of Bulger sightings in London or Italy? Instead, he and his girlfriend Catherine Greig were living on a quiet street of the nation's second-largest city. Just an unassuming elderly couple.

The feds may have finally gotten their man, but I suspect there are going to be times in the days and weeks ahead that they wish he was still on the lam. The FBI probably has many buried skeletons in their closet about the Bulger fiasco as Whitey and his men had of people they tortured and murdered.

We've long questioned what kind of people would make a bargain with the devil -- freedom to kill in exchange for turning on a rival gang of killers and thugs. Bulger's chief handler, John Connolly, has spent more time in jail than Whitey for his complicity, including the fact he allowed Bulger to run before he could be arrested in 1995.

Says David Wheeler, the son of a Bulger victim:
"My opinion is that they don’t want Bulger to tell what he knows about the corruption in the FBI," said Wheeler, who was 29 and working for his father when he died. “There’s no crime that the FBI has not committed. ... The FBI has beat any idealism out of me."
And what of the honest cops -- Boston and State Police -- who worked along aside federal agents we now know were duplicitous?
“The real issue here is now that Bulger is in custody, who gets access to him,’’ said Tom Foley, the retired State Police commander who led the investigation that resulted in the 1995 racketeering indictment against Bulger.
Bulger's confession and/or conviction on the 19 murders he is charged with is important for closure, if such is possible, for the families.

But his confession about what the FBI knew and when they knew it is important for closure, once and for all, on the corruption inside the nation's most vaunted law enforcement agency.

Bulger has an opportunity to leave behind another string of bodies. This time we should be rooting for him to play snitch.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Baby steps

Barack Obama's decision to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is a positive if small step in reordering our national priorities.

I don't claim to know all the military intelligence or strategic thinking. But it strikes me as the kind of rational, balanced decision that leaves neither party satisfied. In short, the type of political compromise so lacking in Washington today.

Afghanistan is the ultimate lose, lose situation. We have squandered thousands of lives and billions of dollars in propping up a corrupt regime. Yet a the same time, we have a security interest there -- as opposed go Iraq, the ultimate in foolish wars.

Now if we could only come up with a solution to the other half our South Asia headaches -- our "allies" in Pakistan.

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Eating crow

Not much more to be said about the the FBI's decision to run daytime TV ads about Whitey Bulger's girlfriend.

Nice job feds.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Woulda, coulda, shoulda

It was the great political parlor game of 2010 and it just got revived: Could Charlie Baker have won the governor's race without Tim Cahill in the field?

The fuel is an admission by Cahill's attorney that the former treasurer was involved in a decision to switch a lottery ad campaign from one focusing on specific games to one boosting the overall program and its management.

Attorney Joseph Demeo says the shift was designed to protect the lottery from a battering caused by a $2 million advertising campaign -- run by an independent Republican committee trying to soften up Cahill or force him out of the three-way race with Deval Patrick.
“The treasurer would have been remiss if the lottery did not act to protect crucial state revenues,’’ Demeo said. “The decision to run the ads was both sound business judgment and completely legal.’’
We've already seen the e-mails from Cahill's erstwhile campaign staff calling on Treasurer Tim to use the lottery advertising account to bolster his image. But an admission by Cahill's attorney of his client' s involvement is pretty damning -- even if the treasurer never committed his actions to e-mail himself.

Attorney General Martha Coakley's office isn't talking about the investigation it has been conducting, but we could be looking at another gaudy political corruption trial hereabouts unless Cahill makes some "arrangements."

As for the the parlor game -- I doubt it. While Baker recently took a look back at his campaign, he never wallowed in might-have-beens. And hindsight suggests Patrick was riding the very beginning of a wave that now has people clamoring for him to take on Scott Brown.

But we sure have some fun new stuff to sink our teeth into.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Have you tried milk cartons?

Somewhere Whitey Bulger is laughing his you know what off.

With Osama bin Laden gone to his 72 virgins, Bulger apparently has moved back up to the top spot on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. And flummoxed G-Men, who have been looking for their former No. 1 snitch for 16 years without success, have decided on a new approach to get their Most Wanted Man.

Focus on his Most Wanted Woman, spending $50,000 in taxpayer dollars for commercials on Ellen and Live with Regis and Kelly and the Times Square neon jungle.

The feds think Catherine Greig, whose been on the lam with Whitey all these years, is an easier mark because she likes to get her hair done and teeth whitened. And they called a news conference to tell us:
“We are trying to reach a different audience that will produce new leads in the case," said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Richard Teahan, head of the task force that includes investigators from the State Police, the US Marshals Service, and the Massachusetts Department of Correction.

“We’re looking for people sitting in a hospital waiting for an appointment with a doctor where there are three or four [television] monitors on the wall, and they are watching these shows . . . or people who are in a beauty salon or barber shop," he said.
It's hard to imagine a bigger embarrassment for the vaunted crime stopping agency. The only thing harder to imagine is that this tactic will be any more successful. And it certainly doesn't impress the families of Bulger's victims.

Says William Christie, a New Hampshire attorney representing two families:
“I think from the family’s perspective, the FBI is looking for Whitey Bulger as hard as Pakistani intelligence was looking for [Osama] Bin Laden.’’
You think Seal Team Six is available?

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Spotlight on DeLeo

It's amazing how one conviction can change things. And not just for legislative leaders but also for a Statehouse press corps that has shrunk in overall size and in teeth.

When last we looked, casino gambling's future in Massachusetts was being decided by three people behind closed doors. Many observers, myself included, shrugged their shoulders and said why not, we know the issues and would rather see it hashed out quietly than suck the oxygen out of the system -- again.

No more.

While we do know the issues inside and out, we also know that House Speaker Robert DeLeo held out last year for what amounted to three no-bid racinos. We also know that he's the son of a long-time Suffolk Down employee and can claim that track and the now-shuttered Wonderland as part of is district.

And in the post-Sal DiMasi world of the House, we know there is room for shenanigans when things, now matter how seemingly innocuous, are allowed to play out behind closed doors. Notes former attorney general Scott Harshbarger, the target of previous Speaker Tom Finneran's "loony left" opprobrium:

“The public’s entitled to more, particularly now. If the only way you can do this is getting a deal behind closed doors, it strikes me as tone deaf.’’

Deval Patrick has almost as much reason as DeLeo to shine a spotlight on the talks. While he stood up to DeLeo last year, the fresher memory in the public's mind may be testimony at DiMasi's trial portraying him as a novice governor eager to trade a education contract for bargaining chips later on.

While Patrick now holds a stronger hand -- and has already successfully called DeLeo's bluff once -- it would be good politics for him to bring the talks out into the fresh air.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Is nothing sacred?

I can put up with higher gasoline prices, more expensive fruits and vegetables. Heck even pricier bagels. But ice cream?

The Globe's Megan Woolhouse gets the scoop (sorry) on the process from the farm to the freezer. It's a chilling story of globalization and the interdependence of seemingly diverse factors combining to jack up prices.

It also raises an interesting question: why exactly are we exporting so much corn to China?

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bruins buzz kill?

Will the MBTA and its commuter rail operation be the ultimate Bruins parade buzz kill? Early reports suggest GM Rich Davey is gonna have some 'splaining to do.

Trains are jammed, streets are packed and tempers are already getting short. The decision to put the parade on a weekend -- to boost attendance -- should not been questioned. After all, there was a ready made crowd intown Friday.

But the surest way to darken the entire mood -- a commuting nightmare -- already appears to be underway, two hours before the first duck boat rolls.

Me? I'm walking.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

No tears for Sal

The Globe's Michael Levenson has a well-written look at the life and legacy of convicted former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, tracking his career back to his days as an altar boy, athlete at Christopher Columbus High and part-time bartender to pay for law school.

It's been fashionable in some progressive quarters to give DiMasi a pass because of his strong support for gay rights and his pivotal roles in bringing about health care reform and slowing the casino gambling train.

Important legislative accomplishments to be sure. But as we now know, brought about at the same time he was wheeling and dealing his way to a lifestyle he could not honestly support.

Let's never forget the damage he has done to the political process far outweighs whatever legislative accomplishments he may have brokered.

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Ranking Shank

The Globe's perpetual sports rain cloud is at it again, trying to burst the euphoria over the Bruins first Stanley Cup in 39 years by ranking it No. 3 among Boston sports titles this century.

As someone whose principal sports loyalties lie with the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns (46 years and counting), I second Joe Kahn's sentiments that Boston sports fans have no reason to complain -- except about writers who try to rain on the rolling parades.

In keeping with that thought, let me start a ranking Boston sports writers. Feel free to join in:
  • Bob Ryan, Globe: While Ryan bleeds hoops, he's an engaging writer who can tackle all sports, and acknowledge his shortcomings.
  • Kevin Paul Dupont, Globe: I half-paid attention to the Bruins this years, but rarely failed to miss Dupont's strongly reported, well-written Sunday column. His Sunday Sports Page 2 offering was an extra bonus.
  • Gary Washburn, Globe: The new(ish) Celtics beat writer was never afraid to level criticism along with kudos.
  • Steve Bulpett, Herald: His history with the Celtics is major credential in sorting through his basketball ruminations.
That puts Shank its least fourth this century. And that's not commenting on hall-of-famers like Peter Gammons or Leigh Montvillle. Shaughnessey probably comes in higher than the Herald's Joe Fitzgerald though.

Add your own!

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hail to the Bruins!

There's only one thing that could force the Sal DiMasi conviction off the Herald front page or below the fold of the Globe: The first Stanley Cup in 39 years!

For at least one day Shank is happy and Howie Carr's embittered bile needs a headline writer's imagination to seem topical. The bitter-enders can turn their attention to Roberto Luongo instead.

So hail to Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara. Hats off to Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton and the scrappy skaters who showed a real comeback story -- from the ashes of last's year's embarrassing debacle of Yankee proportions.

The Bruins hoisting the Cup reminds us that at its soul, Boston has always been a hockey town. And that means, for at least one day, the soul is at peace thanks to the masterful, if agita-inducing way the club worked its way through the playoffs.

Enjoy it. Tomorrow is Bunker Hill Day after all.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We the Sheeple

The conviction of Sal DiMasi on extortion and conspiracy charges doesn't comes as a huge surprise to anyone who has followed the sordid case. But it also does not mean that Beacon Hill is rotten to the core.

Rather, it means that "followership" -- particularly those in the House where three successive speakers have been convicted of crimes -- is the major problem facing a Great and General Court where lawmakers have become too accepting of their leaders and their various trespasses.

The problem reached its apex under DiMasi's rule -- as chronicled by the Phoenix's David Bernstein -- three years ago and reprised today. It was brought home in stark reality in early 2009 when Democrats were virtually unanimous in reelecting him as Speaker, even as it was obvious he was planning an exit strategy that culminated with his handing the gavel to Robert DeLeo a few weeks later.

Many years covering the Legislature -- and a couple of years on the inside -- made it clear to me why lawmakers seemingly turn their free will over to their leader. In exchange for that vote, he (or she) protects them from tough votes and looks favorably on requests for programs and spending that would benefit "the district."

Former Senate President Billy Bulger and one-time speaker Tom Finneran were the best at that role. It's no surprise that Finneran got caught -- and a major accomplishment that Bulger did not.

In contrast, the single most ethical legislative leader I ever observed on Beacon Hill -- former Speaker George Keverian -- allowed his members free will and presided over the most ineffective and chaotic House I ever covered.

Legislative leaders use whatever tools they can to accomplish what in the end are mostly beneficial results for their members and taxpayers. Followers go along to get along and produce results for the people who elect them.

Where the system -- and trust -- breaks down is when the followers turn a blind eye to obvious shenanigans, legal or otherwise.

Does that make them all corrupt? Not by a long shot. Most of the legislators I have known are decent, well-intentioned human beings. I suspect the slippery ones are in direct proportion to their counterparts in the dreaded private sector.

But just because they re not corrupt does not leave them with clean hands when things fly off the track.

And many members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, starting with their current leader DeLeo, have a lot of soul-searching to do about their roles in aiding and abetting "leaders" like DiMasi.

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Don't know much about history

All you had to do is listen to the Republican presidential candidates to know Americans have a problem with their history lessons.

The National Assessment of Eduction Progress has put numbers to what Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin have already demonstrated: simple, basic facts about America's past are either not being taught of not being retained. The depth of the problem is staggering:
... most fourth graders unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure and few high school seniors able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean War.
If that wasn't bad enough, only 2 percent of 12th graders were able to answer a question of Brown v. Board of Education, with the answer in front of them!

Is it any wonder voters are susceptible to the revisionist history offered to them by candidates?

And is it surprising that the rest of the world is taking exception to the notion of American exceptionalism when we presume to tell them what to do when we are often short of the facts?

This is a nation that has billions for defense contractors and scraps for education. It is home to politicians to flaunt their own ignorance before the cameras. When do we start to set real priorities and not bend to the will of lobbyists who manipulate ignorant "leaders" to get their way -- with our money?

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A night to forget

A show of hands please: who watched the Bruins game? The GOP debate? WWE Raw?

If the seven Republican presidential hopefuls wanted to get out of the starting gate with a bang they could have picked a better night than when the Bruins swarmed Robert Luongo early and often. If they really wanted to reach New Hampshire voters, they probably had a better chance dressing up as the Old Man in the Mountain.

But debate they did in Manchester, developing a strange creationist view of a world that began on Jan. 20, 2009, an idyllic blank slate they say was despoiled by Barack Obama.

In the GOP world before Jan, 20, 2009, the United States was at peace. The stock market was humming along, with banks serving their Main Street customers by issuing reasonable, secure mortgages backed up by real assets. Employers were hiring and everyone enjoyed access to health care and good health.

By extension of the GOPers on stage in New Hampshire last night, George Bush never happened, nor did two wars n Afghanistan, illegal spying on the American people and we did not subsidize the richest 1 percent of Americans with tax cuts taken out of the backsides of hard-working people.

Newt Gingrich had not treated his wives with contempt and Michele Bachmann had not moved the American Revolution to New Hampshire. And Mitt Romney had not authored the greatest GOP abomination of them all (after Obama of course) -- a system to provide health care access.

In their eyes, all we need to do to return to Morning in America is banish Obama. Welcome to GOP Fantasyland. Bring your own Xanax.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

LeBron Who?

The headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer says it all:
Dallas Mavericks take their talents to South Beach, leave with NBA championship, 105-95, over Miami
All the editors need to do to update this front page image of LeBron James walking away with no rings on his finger is change the uniform.

Another year. Another failure to match deed with word.

But seriously. All this focus on LeBron's failure is unfair to Dirk Nowitski and the Dallas Mavericks who earned the title by dismantling the Lakers and the Heat en route to their first title.

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Who knew I wasn't free?

Don't let the door hit you on the way out Christen.

The head of the Greater Boston Tea Party is hailing as "spot on" a Mercatus Center study putting New Hampshire No. 1 on the "freedom" list, with Massachusetts down at 46th because we wanted people to have good health and access to doctors, wear seat belts and not play with firecrackers.

Unlike the Live Free and Die State.

At least we don't need to go around recreating our artificial symbols. And we have Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin botching our history too.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Whole Foolish

Can someone please explain to me why a proposal to replace one supermarket with another is worthy of armed police at a community meeting?

Even after reading Yvonne Abraham's excellent summary of the battle between Whole Foods and a part of Jamaica Plain I am left scratching my head as how something so mundane can threaten the fabric of a community.

Yes I am aware that store is often known by the name Whole Paycheck and a few tours around the Brighton store have made me a confirmed non-customer. I am also aware that Hi-Lo market served a largely Hispanic population before it closed its doors.

And I am certainly aware that JP has been evolved over my time in Boston -- moving from a sometimes unfriendly and dangerous place to one of Boston's brightest, most vibrant and diverse communities.

It's also true that Hyde Square was long the center of that concern, thanks to the infamous Bromley-Heath development. Not so today.

But it strikes me JP has been a community in transition for quite awhile. As Abraham points out, Hi-Lo is more beloved now than when it was open and the proximity to the Longwood Medical Area has played a significant role in higher property values.

Is there is one community in Boston as open and welcoming to everyone, as JP? I know Whole Foods certainly did not destroy the fabric of a Brighton that has become home to growing Russian population.

So what gives?

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Clueless clerics

I guess it all depends on the meaning of the word "all."

The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston -- the folks who brought you cardinal Bernie "The Pimp" Law, the pedophile priest protector -- has decided the word does not include gay parishioners. And the powers-that-be have ordered cancellation of a Gay Pride Week Mass entitled "All are Welcome."
“I think that’s horrible, just horrible, that they would cancel,’’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, an organization that advocates for participation of gays in the Catholic Church. “What an abuse of authority. I wish I could be surprised, but I’m definitely appalled.’’
The church certainly has an identity problem here. The Catholic League recently took out full-page ads in The New York Times that John Carroll ably summarized as declaring:
"...significant numbers of Catholic priests aren’t pedophiles. Just predators."
Now comes the archdiocese to pull the welcome mat out from under people who still believe in its message in spite of a track record that seems in direct contradiction to what it allegedly teaches.

People who live in glass rectories shouldn't throw stones.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Desolation Row

Last one out of Downtown Crossing, turn out the lights. Yeah, that would be you Tommy.

The word that Border's is closing its Downtown Crossing store eliminates what may be the last major reason to shop in what was once home to Jordan Marsh, Filene's, not to mention Gilchrist's, Raymond's, Barnes and Noble and the Lafayette Mall.

Obviously the entire blame doesn't rest on Mayor-for-Life Tom Menino. Federated Department Stores, owners of Macy's, is a major culprit. Their desire for cookie-cutting marketing ended the life of both Jordan's and Filene's and creation of the crater that mars the area.

The growth of suburban shopping malls and the technology changes that have made bookstores an endangered species are also to blame.

But so, obviously, is a vision. New Boston Redevelopment Authority boss Peter Meade shows his lack of familiarity with the depth of the problem when he cites the businesses who have signed leases: Sal’s Pizza, Sweet Cupcakes and the Back Deck Grill.

Well at least office workers have some new choices before they abandon the area en masse after 5 p.m.

Menino has been played like a violin by Vornado Trust, allowing them to create the crater before they had the financing the build, now hanging on like bystanders while the New Yorkers wait for a deal that's not likely to0 come.

At this point, the city has pretty much run out of leverage and options. So enjoy your cupcake and wait for the Seaport to grow.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Deval is rolling sevens

If you need any better proof about the amazing political turnaround of Deval Patrick, consider the fact that House Speaker Robert DeLeo may be on the verge of folding his hand on casino legislation.

When last we looked, a casino gaming bill was buried with the last legislative session, terminated by an insurmountable dispute between the Speaker and a governor facing dicey reelection prospects. Lots of finger-wagging and grumbles under (and over) the breath.

DeLeo assumed lawmakers would have an easier time negotiating (or rolling over) Gov. Charlie Baker. But a funny thing happened in November. Patrick defied conventional wisdom and the punditocracy, picked up a head of steam and today is seen as the top dog, wooed by some to take on Scott Brown for the Senate seat next year.

Compare that clout to DeLeo -- who heads an organization where three of his predecessors have been indicted, the last one being an ardent casino foe now just days away from what could be a jury verdict that sends him off to Club Fed for awhile.

Toss in for effect that AFL-CIO boss Robert Haynes, who berated Patrick for killing jobs along with the casinos, is getting ready to ride off into the sunset, having lost one too many battles with the powers-that-be on Beacon Hill.

There's still a ways to go before any compromise emerges from the Statehouse inner sanctums -- and frankly this bill has been debated long enough I have no issue with closed door talks. If and when it does emerge, it will represent one of the truly most impressive political comebacks seen in these parts, or anywhere for that matter, in a long time.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Myth makeovers

Poor Mitt Romney: no wonder he's been in low-key mode on the campaign trail.

Our Man Myth is psychoanalyzed about his changing wardrobe and his changing positions in two separate looks by people who know him well. It's enough to bite into the lead he maintains in early horse race polls -- assuming anyone is paying attention right about now.

There have already been whole forests killed in chronicling Romney's flip-flops on issues. Call it a hunch, but the wardrobe makeover may prove to be the hardest makeover to explain for voters who can spot phoniness better than they can political evolution.

And that's not even talking about poor Seamus.

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Reading history

Republican presidential candidates seem to have a problem absorbing history -- and I'm not talking about Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.

Tim Pawlenty -- the other half of the Minnesota Twins --is calling for steep tax cuts to "turbocharge" the economy. Problem is a reading of history for the past 30 years tells a completely different tale.

Since the dawn of Reaganomics (or voodoo economics as George H.W. Bush would say) in 1980, the US economy has gone through massive deficit creation twice -- starting with Ronald Reagan and resuming with a vengeance with George W. Bush. Those presidencies were marked by massive tax cuts.

The interim period -- the Clinton years -- saw the reduction and eventual elimination of the deficit. How did that happen? A targeted tax increase played a key role.

Bush the Elder was spot on in labeling the concept of supply side economics -- cutting taxes to raise revenue -- as voodoo. And the GOP has been fully under the spell, helping to bring us where we are today.

Here's a suggestion to Washington political reporters: stop following Anthony's wiener woes and start debunking outright fallacies. It's not that hard. It's called reporting.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

What a wiener

Anthony Weiner is a wiener who has embarrassed himself, his family and Congress and ought to resign. And take the Washington press corps with him.

The latest case of men behaving badly in Washington leaves you scratching your head about what possesses people to act so recklessly and think they can get away with it in today's toxic political environment.

And despite Andrew Breitbart's first success at taking down a Democrat, it shines yet another spotlight on what has become the tawdry game -- and the political press corps' preference for the politics of personal destruction over substance.

Let's start with Weiner, who behaved like a spoiled adolescent with a toy he could not handle. His immaturity is startling. His disdain from both women and common sense would be disqualifying for most politicians. But his brazenness in lying for a week and then telling all and insisting he can still do his job is mind-numbingly arrogant.

Then there's Breitbart, who has sent James O'Keefe into battle in undercover stings of dubious quality and edited Shirley Sherrod to put words into her mouth. He added to his own legend by hijacking Weiner's own press conference.

Breibart's beef with the media is his claim they ignore Democratic miscreants and focus only on Republicans behaving badly. Apparently he slept through the coverage of John Edwards, not to mention a little thing called impeachment.

But he could not have scored a win (aside from Weiner's own idiocy) without the help of a press corps that just can't find the time for serious pursuits because of their own childlike fascination with bad boys.

We have two-and-a-half wars, a nation stuck amid a Great Recession and questions being raised by Republican leaders whether we should chose between bankers and sick elders. Serious issues requiring sober analysis.

No wonder conservative activists want to change the subject. Shame on the politicians who allow them to do that by behaving badly. And shame on the media that prefers titillation over substance.

When I was breaking into journalism, I preferred covering politics to policy. When my interests reversed, it became clear to me I needed a new line of work. It's a decision I don't regret making because today's political journalism is all about gotcha and not at all focused where it should be.

I can look myself in the mirror. Can anyone involved in this latest embarrassment say the same thing?

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Monday, June 06, 2011

Reality bites

Truth matters less than what people believe. It's been a basic credo of the conservative movement and it is now biting one of its principals in the backside. With a vengeance.

Sarah Palin has taken to her friends at Fox to proclaim she was correct in declaring that Paul Revere warned the British about American plans to challenge them at Lexington and Concord.

She is relying on a letter written by Revere and housed at the Massachusetts Historical Society to make her case, one far different from the popular cultural belief ingrained by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And that's where she's running into problems.

There's clearly truth in the story. Comedian Robert Wuhl took on Longfellow in 2006, making the case for Israel Bissell (he sounds like a Jewish vacuum cleaner" ) being a more heroic character than Revere.

The hard part is accepting the fact that Palin, who has made her claim to fame a disdain for "elites," actually researched this little known fact ahead of time and was educating Americans about Longfellow's historical liberties.

The result is Palin is now clearly the butt of jokes everywhere and her supporters feel the need to rewrite history.

That's the cold hard reality Palin must now contend with. And it's clear she doesn't like the shoe being on the other foot.

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Waiting for Elizabeth

The late Nebraska Sen. Roman Hruska certainly never had the current crop of Massachusetts Senate Democratic hopefuls in mind when he issued his defense of mediocrity. But then again, he probably wasn't thinking about the office's current occupant either.

Nonetheless, diehard Massachusetts Democrats spent a glorious June Saturday in the Tsongas Center listening to six wannabees for the right to take on Scott Brown. Their collective name recognition and/or political experience has party leaders wringing their hands in angst over the thought of giving Brown what amounts to a free pass.

No offense to Alan Khazei and Bob Massie, earnest men who have already failed at tries for statewide victory.

Setti Warren and Tom Conroy? Come back when you have some more experience under your belt.

Herb Robinson and Marisa DeFranco? Admire your interest in public service but who the heck are you?

The Democrats' problem is similar to one that has plagued the Massachusetts GOP for decades -- no farm team. Members of the congressional delegation aged in place waiting for an opening after John Kerry snatched the mantle dropped by Paul Tsongas in 1984. The one-time young bloods are now eligible for Social Security and Medicare, even if their federal benefits are probably better.

Even "youngsters" like Mike Capuano and Steve Lynch are waiting for a more surefire shot when/if Kerry steps aside to become Secretary of State in the second Obama administration. The best of the rest was Martha Coakley, and we all know how that turned out.

So Democrats are hoping for a lightning strike similiar to the one that found Brown in the right place in the right time. The GOP incumbent has popularity and a war chest, but could be vulnerable to a well-financed opponent who highlights his sorry record of siding with bankers over the unemployed.

And that's where Elizabeth Warren comes in. The Harvard Law School professor has given national Republicans agita with her defense of consumers over bankers.

The GOP is adamant they will not approve Warren as the first head of the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau created by the Dodd-Franks law to rein in financial abuse. So adamant they won't allow the Senate to recess and give Obama a chance to make a recess appointment.

Naturally that has the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee drooling, but leaves local leaders chafing at the intrusion. Not that state Democratic chairman John Walsh has a problem with a high-profile national candidate).

Warren hasn't said no, only that she is focused on creating the office that Republicans insist she will never be allowed to lead. Her appearances on talk shows suggest she will be a well-spoken, articulate candidate. And unlike the incumbent, she has never posed nude for a national magazine (as far as we know).

So the hand writing may indeed be on the wall for a showdown between the friend of consumers versus the friend of bankers.

All we have to do is get through the preliminaries.

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Longfellow was wrong

That darn lamestream media is at it again. The Friends of Sarah Palin want us to know it was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who messed up the tale of Paul Revere's Ride.

The former Alaska governor offered this now famous disquisition on Revere warning the British with bells so they wouldn't take our guns (or something along those lines). Most Americans assume she was merely mangling the tale told by Longfellow in is famous poem.

But the folks at Conservatives4Palin (interesting logo -- Palin turns her back on America?) want us to know that the esteemed patriot of American history was really a wuss who spilled the beans when he was captured by the British.

Citing a 1789 letter at the Massachusetts Historical Society, we are told:
Upon being stopped, did Revere, in essence, warn the British soldiers of the colonists’ plans? Yes. The strawmen built by the media seems to almost indicate that Revere rode through the streets warning the British soldiers. In actuality, simply put, Paul Revere told Regulars of the colonists’ plans during his attempt to warn the colonists of the Regulars’ approach (Revere actually said, “the Regulars are coming!”. The colonist still viewed themselves as British subjects at the time and would not have said, “the British are coming”.)
There have many critics of Longfellow's interpretation of that ride, but it's hard to believe Palin was quoting them in her mangled history lesson. Revere may not have been all he's been built up to be, but this fractured piece of history doesn't add to that body of criticism.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Tone deaf politics

Neither rain, nor hail nor the destruction from a trio of tornadoes can keep these politicians from their appointed rounds.

And that's exactly what potential voters were treated to yesterday as western Massachusetts dug out from twisters that killed three people and damaged hundreds of homes and businesses. Meanwhile, across the border, the political Kabuki theater played on -- oblivious or uncaring to the pain.

Apologists will say Mitt Romney has been planning his formal campaign announcement at a New Hampshire farm for months and it would have been inappropriate for him to venture to western Massachusetts and upstage the role of his successor, Deval Patrick.

Nevertheless, it's a surprise the tightly rehearsed Romney event had no room for ad libs -- such as an acknowledgment and expression of concern for his neighbors and one-time constituents a short bus ride away in Springfield and Monson.

At least that's better than literally taking a bus ride through the height of the storm during a faux "family vacation" for an opportunity to upstage and mock Romney. I'm talking abut you Sarah.

The Republican Party's principal claim to electoral success has been that of image creation: they proclaim their allegiance to Main Street while doing the bidding of Wall Street in a manner where image speaks louder than deed.

To carry out life as normal next door to a tragedy where a mother sacrifices herself for her child offers an incredible vivid reminder of the fallacy of GOP concern and the callous tone deafness of the candidates vying to be the party's leader next year.

How hard is it to say something encouraging to people who are suffering and will need help from government to get some semblance of normalcy back into their lives?

CORRECTION: The death toll directly related to the storm was revised downward to three people.

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Tornado Tour

Talk about an omen. The Sarah Palin "vacation" tour comes to Massachusetts and the weather turns apocalyptic, with lightning, hail and a tornado or two.

Is it a coincidence she arrived the night before Mitt Romney ends the suspense over his intentions? What do you think?

Fresh from pizza with the Donald in Times Square and a quick tour of Ellis Island -- and a slam of the DREAM Act -- the First Lady of Hype was ready to get back on the road. But first a stop at Fox News and a chat with the bosses, who say she is still a member in good standing of the Conservative Commentariat.

The press corps trailing her offered constant weather updates as the bus pulled into the Bay State near Springfield, which was battered by tornadoes that would not quit. It was a spectacle even bigger than her and the bus wisely headed eastbound.

So now the big question on the Where's Sarah Road Trip is who does she show up next? Intruding on Deval Patrick and the tragedy would be a bit unseemly and the storms have sucked up no small part of media attention for the rare combination of their intensity and rarity in western and central Massachusetts.

One school of thought suggested a stop at the Concord Bridge, a nifty photo-op to talk about the real American Revolution and upstage history buff Michele Bachmann. Others suggest a tour of the Freedom Trail.

My personal favorite, a stop at the site of the real Tea Party, seems to be a loser, alas, because the visuals just aren't the same without the replica vessels.

So the betting money is the bus will head up 93 and suck some of the oxygen out of Romney's stage managed announcement on a New Hampshire farm, a scene straight out of President Jed Bartlet's playbook.

After all, stealing Mitt's thunder seems appropriate given her arrival in New England.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cheap stunt, costly consequences

If the Party of No could balance the budget with cheap tricks, we'd be rolling in surpluses as far as the eye could see.

But here you have the "leaders" who campaigned on saving Medicare -- before proposing to gut it -- offering a "symbolic" vote against raising the debt ceiling for the purpose of assuring everyone they are serious about cutting spending.

No mention of sending the world economy back into a tailspin.

At least GOP lawmakers were more forthright about this stunt:
“This vote, based on legislation I’ve introduced, will and must fail,” said Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Camp's position is well-orchestrated with the people the GOP is beholden to. Hint: they aren't Main Street.
“Wall Street is in on the joke,” said R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
These are the "adults" American voters elected?

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Hail and farewell

What sets Robert Haynes apart from the Wall Street types that he battles is the Massachusetts AFL-CIO boss knows when he's no longer doing a good job and walks away.

This has not been a good year for Haynes, who loudly and vociferously opposed changes in the rules governing what local municipal employees pay for their health insurance. After years of trying to work out their differences at the table, House and Senate leaders this year finally said enough.

Add the embarrassment that Haynes was pulling down another $72,000 to sit on a non-profit board -- of a company whose business is selling health insurance -- and the need for him to step aside became overwhelmingly obvious.

Haynes' bluster is a throw back to another time for labor, one which has come and gone. The fact that labor's clout has diminished at a time when we need a countervailing force to the greed that dominates Wall Street and its Republican enablers is not just sad, it's a bit terrifying.

But it is that diminished clout which suggests it's time for labor to go back to its own table and come up with new strategies and tactics for defending working men and women that reflect the realities of the 21st Century and not the glories of the 20th Century.

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